By Kim Knibbe At this moment, the day has started already in the Philippines, the day nationwide elections will take place. Filipinos must choose new members for their municipal councils, representatives on the provincial level, new senators and congressmen, and a new president. Earlier I have written about the emergence of a sudden unlikely but extremely popular candidate after the death of Cory Aquino, namely her son Noynoy Aquino, making it a lot harder for the current president, Gloria Arroyo, to find an excuse to hold on to her power. I have also written about the election violence at the local and provincial levels. Although one incident was unusually violent, this is all business as usual, no reason to call off the elections. Nevertheless, everybody is holding his or her breath, because there is one more thing that can go seriously wrong:
Computers. These are the first automated elections in the Philippines. I don’t know who got the idea to use computers, because there are frequent brown-outs, there are places where electricity is not all that usual, and of course, there are serious problems: last week, a whole load of flash drives were discovered not to work properly. In some areas, the cell phone signal by which the results will have to be transmitted does not work properly, making the results vulnerable to fraud. Furthermore, only last weekend have these machines been tested on the sites all over the Philippines, hours before the elections start! IT experts fear ‘implosion’, although they, like the rest of the Philippines hope very much they are wrong.
It’s incredible, but there is no back up plan. Why? Voting on paper was also not safe, ballot boxes got stolen, sometimes municipal halls went up in flames in an attempt to confuse the counting of votes, padding and shaving (dagdag bawas) is considered normal and even when a tape was found with the president instructing the chairman of the election committee to pad her votes, the legal proceedings got so entangled that nobody could actually be prosecuted for it. But those were the known evils.What will happen if there is a massive failure, and thousands, if not millions of votes get lost?
The army has said that they will do nothing unconstitutional. That makes me wonder what constitutional loopholes Gloria has found: can she declare the elections failed? Will the army support her if shedoes? It’s unlikely, since she is historically unpopular also among soldiers, but then again, she has been appointing her personal favourites in a hurry the past few months. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the elections should go ahead as planned despite the problems with the voting machines. That means that all those technicians standing by now to solve computer glitches have the immediate future of democracy in the Philippines in their hands….
Kim Knibbe is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology of VU University Amsterdam. She regularly visits the Philippines.